Sunday morning’s “Graphix Out Loud: Kid’s Comics Come to Life” lasted just 25 minutes, but the advice these creators offered to the comic book artists of tomorrow was inspirational and downright insightful. Raina Telgemeier moderated a panel that included Varian Johnson and Shannon Wright (Twins), Penelope Bagieu (The Witches), and Maria Scrivan (Forget Me Nat). The panelists read short passages from each of their new books and shared with Telgemeier the origins and sources of their individual creative processes.
Bagieu responded to Telgemeier’s question on what it was like to adapt The Witches with a philosophical perspective based on a childhood experience with the book.
“It was very easy since I knew the book by heart, and I was reading it over and over since I was eight. I really have a precise idea of what the characters look like. All the scenes that terrified me — I knew how I wanted to see them, so everything was pretty natural. I thought it might be intimidating working on a book that was so beloved by everyone, but it wasn’t. It was like it was ready in my mind, ready to be drawn, ready to be written.”
Wright, an artist, and Varian, the writer, took divergent paths towards their careers as professional graphic novelists. According to Wright:
“It was a need to get ideas that were just clouding up my brain all the time on paper. That was when I knew I wanted to see my ideas realized.”
As a writer, Varian found that the comics medium offered up a wealth of narrative possibilities::
“I grew up reading comic books. I still love comic books. It wasn’t until later that I discovered writing graphic novels was possible. I love the freedom of the form. I love that there’s so many things you can do in a comic or graphic novel that you can’t do in a ‘traditional’ prose novel, with changing angles and points of view. I really love it.”
Telgemeier asked about recommendations for black graphic novelists. Wright was armed and ready with an arsenal of titles: Gleem (Freddy Carrasco), Hot Comb (Ebony Flowers), That Box We Sit On (Richie Pope), and Prince of Cats (Ronald Wimberley). Johnson recommended Jerry Craft’s New Kid and the March Trilogy (John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell), while Bagieu recommended Marguerite Abouet’s Aya and Akissi.
When asked what advice each panelist would tell aspiring writers creating their first books, everyone had something unique to offer. Johnson stressed the importance of reading with an open mind:
“Read first. Read everything. There’s so much we learn about the craft by reading what we like and what we don’t like.”
The mantra of “create first, fix later” was agreed by all of the panelists, while Bagieu stressed the importance of publicizing artwork: “The minute you write something and someone reads it, you’re an artist.”
And sure there may be roadblocks and self-doubt, but the important thing is to do the work. Scrivan summed up the “Graphix Out Loud” discussion with one very important tip all aspiring artists should heed.
“Don’t let your inner critic get you down. Lean on those around you and your friends.”
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